Sex offender’s lawsuit reinstated in Connecticut email address battle

By Dave Collins

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A convicted sex offender has made a “plausible” claim that providing his email address and other internet identifying information to Connecticut officials violates his free speech rights, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in reinstating his lawsuit against the state.

The decision by a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan mirrors other court rulings around the country that determined some states’ laws violated sex offenders’ rights. James Cornelio, a former New York City lawyer, was convicted in New York in 2005 for sex offenses involving a minor. He later moved to New Preston, Connecticut, and was subject to Connecticut’s sex offender registration requirements.

He sued Connecticut and state police officials after he was arrested in 2015 for failing to provide an email address he was using, as required by the state’s law. The arrest came after Cornelio emailed the state police sex offender registry unit using an email account not registered with the state, police said. Cornelio claimed the state’s requirements violated his First Amendment rights and accused a state police detective of malicious prosecution.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Meyer in New Haven dismissed the lawsuit in 2020. He said the email disclosure requirement served an important law enforcement purpose in deterring sex offenders from trying to entice potential victims while remaining anonymous online — because police would have their email addresses and other identifying information.

Meyer, however, acknowledged the requirement “inhibits to some degree the exercise of (Cornelio’s) right to engage in anonymous speech activities on the Internet.” He also rejected the malicious prosecution claim. The 2nd Circuit Court reinstated Cornelio’s free speech claims, but also rejected his other allegations including malicious prosecution.

“The disclosure requirement plausibly imposes an extra burden that unnecessarily chills protected speech,” the panel wrote. “The government cannot normally justify a speech restriction by reference to its interest in deterring crime.” Cornelio said in a phone interview Tuesday that he was reviewing the decision and declined further comment. A message seeking comment was left for the Connecticut attorney general’s office, which is representing the state in the lawsuit.

In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina law that barred convicted sex offenders from Facebook, Twitter and other popular sites, saying it prevented offenders from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights.

In 2020, the Louisiana Supreme Court said it was unconstitutional for the state to require people convicted of certain sex crimes to carry state-issued ID cards with the words “SEX OFFENDER” printed on them in orange capital letters.